I grew up in, and still attend, a lovely liberal Methodist church. The kind of church where people show up, participate in services and serve on committees and for the most part leave each other alone. This is a sensibility I also got from my family. We don't believe in "sharing" or "testifying" or talking about our faith. It is just not something my family, going back generations, does. We feel that our religion is no one else's business, and conversely that other people should keep their religion to themselves.
I think that is why I find Ash Wednesday so distasteful. People with ash crosses on their head strikes me as gauche and self-important. It just screams, "Look how religious I am," which again, I find distasteful.
I also happen to dislike Lent in general. I think that this question for Tom Sietsma's chat today illustrates why.
"Anonymous: Hi Tom! Can you please remind all the chefs out there reading that it's now Lent, and that they will therefore have big runs on the fish and meatless entrees on their menus on Fridays? It's never fun to go out at 7:30 on a Friday and have them already out of those!"The thinking is that when you are not ordering the steak on Friday you are remembering the sacrifice that Jesus went through to save you from sin. When some one gives up Coke for Lent the hope is that they will similarly remember Jesus's sacrifice each time they go to the fridge, you know "Spiritually prepare for Easter."
Also, part of the reason why Lent is forty days, note that Sundays don't count in Lent thus we are 47 days from Easter, is because Jesus spent forty days in the Wilderness being tempted by Satan before beginning his ministry. So I guess the equation is roughly: not eating chocolate = Jesus in the desert.
Again, if find a little to much self-importance occurring during this religious season. It starts with crosses on foreheads and ends with fancy hats and sun dresses, and it is all showy. Again, it just rubs me the wrong way.
But what really gets me, and why I quoted the question above, is that the fasting and the cross only make sense if Lent is treated like a serious time of spiritual preparation for the holiest day in the Christian religion, if it were treated like Ramadan for example. It doesn't work if you want to make sure that Citronelle has something exquisite for you to eat when you go out on Friday night. I guess the hope is that one finds Jesus in their attempts to get around what are suppose to be his rules. I also don't mean to single that anonymous person out, I think that this line of thinking is widespread.
In the end, I am a person who has uttered the phrase "God damned church" more times than I can count, many occurring in the building itself. So I might not be the best person to opine on religious theory and sentiments, but if you left me alone I probably wouldn't have.